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Archive for May, 2012

Dear Wild Cooks,

As we all know “life is full of surprises”. Indeed, when I arrived at a secret foragers’ location for an evening with The Cooking Fairy and her newly-formed group of like minded foragers, I was certainly surprised by what I saw. Standing proud in the pond in front of me was the humble bulrush…

I am not speaking a load of ‘old rushing bull’ (!) – I can tell you this rush is exciting, filling and actually quite tasty!!

Steph kneels by the pond to collect some bulrush

Steph kneels by the pond to collect some bulrush

So how do you know you are ‘pulling’ a bulrush?! This is not as crazy as it sounds, infact what you are looking for is not dissimilar to a leek. The leaves are flat at the top of the stalks and then begin to bend and wrap around the stem as you go lower down.

No leeks here - these fine beauties are bulrush

No leeks here – these fine beauties are bulrush

According to my great book of knowledge, ‘The Forager Handbook’ by Miles Irving, the bulrush must not be mistaken for the ‘yellow iris’ which is poisonous. Miles says bulrush is found in large clumps in slow moving rivers or ponds (in our case it was a pond).

Bulrush is also known as ‘reedmace’, and the chocolate-brown, cigar-shaped seed heads we all see used in flower arrangements are the flower heads in their postcoital stage, so forager Irving says.

As a keen forager, I do believe that in order to learn the tricks of the trade there is nothing more useful than a good book and ‘The Forager Handbook’ is my favourite and is highly recommended. I managed to tip half a pint of wild garlic pesto over it the other day so it has its own special aroma now!

Cooked bulrush ready for dinner

Cooked bulrush ready for dinner

Back to the bulrush, please do not eat it raw (not that you’d have a strong desire to) and be careful where you ‘go pulling’! My experience of pulling bulrush is to kneel and pull the stem at the base and give it a good tug, twisting the stem at the same time.

Once out of the water disguard the outer leaves and the tops as they are woody. The stem itself should be packed with goodness and be firm but giving to the touch.

You also have to be careful when foraging in or near ponds, not only because you can fall in but farmers will often use pesticides on nearby crops which may also filter into the water. 

Once you have sourced your bulrush, read my instructions on how best to prepare them.

“How to prepare bulrush”

Rushing off…!

Steph x

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When approcahed by a Master Chef Finalist to see if he can “call in” on his Yorkshire Food Tour it is time to dust off those forager boots and go see what’s out there.

Peter, Tom and I foraged in the golf course woods at Rudding Park

Peter, Tom and I foraged in the golf course woods at Rudding Park

I have to say I have been hearing a lot about Tom Rennolds locally, and his Food Tour of Yorkshire is definitely on a roll.

Travelling in ‘Percy’ the VW camper with his mate Johnny and a film crew, Tom is currently ‘gastronomically experiencing’ Yorkshire for a week. We were so pleased that he chose to forage at Rudding Park and we enjoyed preparing and sharing a ‘wild cook’ style dinner for the whole team that evening at Clocktower. After a greulling few days on the road and feeling quite content with their surroundings, the team wisely chose a to stay at the hotel instead of their beloved camper! It was a logical decision since their next stop was at Fodder early the next morning, just a mile up the road from Rudding Park.  They had scheduled a sausage making session with my mate Paul Nicholson, head butcher at Fodder and incidentally my partner in crime for this year’s Great Yorkshire Show Game Cookery demonstration! 

Anyway, back to the boys’ visit to Rudding Park. They rolled up in a camper van (my brother-in-law is a great fan of this mode of transport and I have even owned one myself back in the days of living in Australia, and it did have Mr Men curtains!), and we spent an hour or so foraging the beautiful parkland.  Tom is a lovely guy and a really genuine person with an almighty passion for food. He has a great deal of stories about growing up and even some fascinating forager tales, such as crayfishing in his hometown of Ilkley. So Peter and I showed him some of our own crayfish here at Rudding Park!

Peter , Tom and Two Crayfish!

Peter , Tom and Two Crayfish!

We continued on and found cleavers, nettles, jack by the hedge, wild garlic, crayfish, the odd pheasant and even a hare! Tom liked the flavour of ground ivy but I think wood sorrel was his favourite which isn’t a bad thing since Rene Redzephi from Noma says that “Wood Sorrel is the glue that sticks his team together”.

Onto Clocktower we drove and enjoyed a relaxed evening eating our way through the following menu:

Forager’s Springtime Soup
~
Rudding Park Rabbit
prepared by yours truly with marinated loin, confit leg croquette, heart and nettle puree with a rabbit lollipop

~
‘0 miles’ Pigeon with Yorkshire Venison
sweet potato fondant, braised red cabbage
~
Frangipane Tart
apple sorbet, elderflower jelly (made with last year’s Elderflower cordial as they are not ready yet). However, have any of you seen the buds out and about? They are looking great don’t you think wild cooks?

The Clocktower chefs did us proud, thanks guys and the team out front were great too.

Tom and Johnny plan to visit two great chefs in the region, Brian Turner and Rosemary Shrager. They have both stayed at Rudding Park in the past and I have had the pleasure to meet them on many occasions. Tom, a wild cook’s insight, they are lovely!

The thing I liked to hear about Tom’s Food Tour for Yorkshire is that he is visiting large and small companies and meeting people who really contribute to and support local produce in the region. It’s a great idea lads and good luck to them as later this year they are hosting a food festival in Tom’s home town of Ilkley.

Thanks guys for asking me to take part in some foodie fun in Ilkley, I cannot wait. It sounds like a great idea and a grand day out. Good luck with the rest of the tour, I hope “Percy” can cope with all this food – he should feel very honoured to have a home made camper van cake on board!!

A real pleasure to meet you Tom, happy cooking. Yorkshire is a better place with you in it Chef!

Steph x

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Dear Wild Cooks,

There will be many of you who are wild about mushrooms but you really must take care when foraging for them. I have been cooking with mushrooms for many years now and even I always forage with someone who knows the score – these things can make you seriously ill.

Going wild for mushrooms!

Going wild for mushrooms!

That’s where ‘Fungi David’ comes in as he was kind enough to accompany me to pick a blewit or two. I must admit I have always steered clear of foraging for mushrooms as they scare the heck out of me but with David at the controls I felt in safe hands.

David certainly knows a thing or two about mushrooms

David certainly knows a thing or two about mushrooms

There are two types of blewit, the woodland variety and the field variety. Both can give you indigestion or in some cases make you ill if you do not cook them properly so it is important for you to carry a few references with you whilst picking as well as good cooking manuals. Sorry, I don’t mean to be negative about the dear mushroom family, but they can be nasty fellas if you’re not clued up on them!

David showed me how to identify the blewit mushrooms and how they live in the lush areas of the field as opposed to the shorter patches of grass.

The blewits can be found in the lush grasses

We headed for the longer grasses in search for blewits

David crouched down at the side of the mushroom and produced a pocket knife to slice the base of the mushroom and present a blewit for me to see.

David confirms that this is definately a blewit!!

David confirms that this is definately a blewit!!

Back at David’s house I found out that he has foraged the countryside for all sorts of ingredients from a young age. His wife Sandy is also an excellent cook and has jams and pickles from all manor of foraged ingredients.

Blewits are not as popular as chanterelles  but they have a great place in the wild mushroom mixes of today or even well cooked in various dishes. I
decided I was going to make sausage and mushroom rolls.

Our collection of foraged blewits

Our collection of foraged blewits

So, out came a pan and my freshly foraged mushrooms and I was hoping not to ‘blewit’ in front of David and his wife! What was apparent was that they are quite wet when you fry them so I would suggest not overloading the pan. It is also essential that when you pick them check there are no insect larvae on the surface of the mushrooms.

A blewit must be cooked, I am sure I have already said this and you can gauge by now that working with these foraged fungi finds does freak me out a little! I am nervous that people don’t know what they are looking for, even some blewits look like another purple mushroom that can have you in bed for weeks if you eat it…..ok calm down Steph lets get on with it!

We never cook with blewits at Rudding Park as we are far happier with wild garlic, wood sorrel and nettles! At least you know where you are with them and when cooking for the general public and valued customers one must always be super careful.

Why not try this great sausage roll recipe with your blewits. The family loved them, it’s a good job they trusted me and more to the point that they trusted David!

Always remember if in any doubt do not pick the mushrooms.

Steph x

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The flavoursome and versatile dandelion!

The flavoursome and versatile dandelion!

This flower can brighten you up just by looking at it! The dandelion is a bursting, bright coloured flower with lots of uses. You can drink dandylion coffee, I am not a fan myself, but I love the leaves in salads – ideally with a few yellow petals too.

When foraging for dandelions always remember to search on the fields and areas away from cars and pesticides.

Did you know that the dandelion has a self preservation ‘mechanism’ which occurs if you pick one out of the ground?  Not long after being picked, the flower head closes in on itself and protects the yellow leaves inside – amazing stuff!

If you are thinking of growing your own dandelions for salads and other recipes, the best tip is to nip the heads off so all that extra strength can go into the leaves and the root.

Here are a few further tips on how to make the most out of dandelion:

1. Dandelion Wine – A brilliant, yellow coloured, and fun beverage! I’ve never tried it myself but I would be intruiged to hear any feedback or a good recipe?

2. Salads – I like dandelion with smoky, hot snippets of bacon and roasted cherry tomatoes with a few crispy croutons.

3. Deep fried beignets – dandelion is a great accompaniment with the beignets along with foraged wild garlic flowers.

Why not pick a few leaves and flowers of this very medicinal plant and make yourself feel a whole lot better. Not only is this plant a bright beauty it is also carries a lot of health benefits. It works wonders for a tickly throat and according to Jekka McVicar, author of The Complete Herb Book, the humble dandelion stalks can even help to relieve and reduce:

  • cholesterol
  • liver and kidney disorders
  • diabetes
  • acne
  • amenia

It also helps in maintaining bone health, skin care and weight loss. Dandelion, which literally translates into “lion’s tooth” in French, is rich in vitamin-A, C, iron, calcium and detoxifiers which explains its use in medicines.

So pick away and enjoy, or I suppose if you want to cheat you could always drink Dandelion and Burdock!

Steph x

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